Tips For Dealing With Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy For Breast Cancer

12 December 2016
 Categories: , Blog

Radiation therapy is often used to treat breast cancer because the treatments are able to target a tumor and shrink or eradicate it. You may receive radiation treatments before or after surgery. While the radiation is delivered in a precise way in order to strike the cancer cells, some nearby healthy tissue is affected too. That's why it is common to have side effects. Side effects vary according to the area where radiation treatments are applied. In the case of breast cancer, you can expect to have fatigue and skin changes. Here are a few tips for dealing with them.

Dealing With Skin Irritation

The radiation beam passes through your skin on its way to the cancer cells in your breast. This causes irritation much like a sunburn. Your skin turns red and feels sore. The area may dry out and peel. Your doctor will advise you on the type of lotion and soap to use on the area as you'll need to avoid products that have added perfumes and harsh chemicals. In addition, you should keep the area covered when you're outdoors so the irritated skin is protected from the sun.

Loose, soft tops will cause less irritation to your skin. You may want to avoid wearing a bra when possible. It's best to avoid temperature extremes too. This includes outdoor temperatures as well as water used when showering. Hot or cold temperatures can irritate your skin further. Wash with lukewarm water and blot the area dry. You'll probably experience itching as well, but it is very important to resist the temptation to scratch your skin. Scratching can lead to infection and skin breakdown that further compounds your problem.

Managing Fatigue

Fatigue is a side effect that is more difficult to manage. It has several causes. The stress of dealing with cancer can lead to depression and fatigue. Plus the treatments cause physical changes in your body that make your body work overtime to heal. This leaves you feeling depleted. It may take weeks or months after your treatments are over for the fatigue to go away. Resting is essential. This means getting restful sleep at night and maybe even napping during the day. However, you don't want to stay in bed all day and night because that can make you more exhausted. You should exercise daily depending on your level of health and your doctor's recommendation. Gentle exercise such as walking or swimming can help you overcome fatigue and lift your spirits too.

Eating a healthy diet helps with fatigue since your body needs good nutrition to rebuild itself while healing from cancer and radiation treatments. Get advice from a dietitian or your doctor about the best foods to eat, especially if your appetite is poor. You want to eat food that is high in calories so you don't lose weight, and you also need protein to build healthy tissues. Getting professional help for depression may be necessary too because depression can make you lose interest in food.

You may need to restructure your life while you deal with your fatigue so you aren't pulled in several directions at once. Get help managing your household if you can. Hire someone to clean the house, let your family cook meals, and prioritize attending school events, church, and work so you are able to do the things that are most important. Depending on your level of fatigue and the type of work you do, you may be able to continue working while you undergo radiation treatments or you may need to take medical leave.

While fatigue and skin irritation are the two most common side effects of radiation treatments to the breast, it's possible to have other complications depending on where the radiation beam is directed. If it strikes your throat, you may have a sore throat with trouble swallowing after your treatments. If it strikes your lungs, you may develop a lung infection. Stay alert for any changes in your body so you can report them to your doctor and have the side effects treated if necessary.